The Best Books to Heal Attachment Trauma

Change your life in just 5 books.

14 minute read
;

If you’ve been researching attachment on your own, you’ve probably realized that many bloggers and youtubers give contradicting advice. When you just want to get better, figuring out who you can believe is exhausting.

Over the past decade, I’ve read hundreds of research articles and dozens of books on attachment theory.

From those dozens, five books stood head and shoulders above the rest. Each uniquely changed my life as I journeyed from disorganized to secure.

I’ve sorted these books in the rough order that attachment-based therapy follows. I’ve also provided an alternative option for each step – the content will be very similar, but one will probably be more accessible for your attachment style than the other.

These books won’t replace therapy, but they will get you damn far pretty fast – as long as you actually do the exercises in the books instead of just thinking about them.

Genuine change doesn’t happen in your head, you have to live it.

    Step 1) Attachment Theory Fundamentals

    Growing up with parents who aren’t there for us, we have to adapt. The ways we learn to act and feel contribute to our survival. But when we fall in love, or have children, we inflict these childhood beliefs and habits onto our families.

    You can be the one in your family who breaks free from these cycles, but first you have to fix your core beliefs about what love and connection mean.

    Love Sense

    Dr. Sue Johnson

    Dr. Johnson is the creator of the most successful style of attachment therapy in the world, Emotion-Focused Therapy.

    When I realized my relationships were toxic, I searched for answers in Marriage & Family Therapy. None of the experts could answer why some couples were happy while the rest of us struggled, instead focusing their books on communication and infidelity.

    Then I came across Sue’s work, and it changed everything I thought I knew about love. She’s one of the most brilliant emotional navigators I’ve ever had the pleasure to study with.

    Love Sense takes the theory out of Attachment, putting it into real-world examples supported by scientific research from multiple fields.

    This book will show you how attachment influences everything from our dating habits to families to sex.

    Sue does not go deep into individual styles, preferring to work directly with underlying needs and behavior.

    This book is the better Step 1 for you if you: 

    • Have been shamed for wanting more closeness and emotion in relationships. 
    • Are (currently) leaning towards anxious.
    • Already believe in love. 

    The Power of Attachment

    Dr. Diane Poole Heller

    Dr. Heller is one of a handful of psychologists whose work specifically includes adult disorganized attachment, a.k.a. the Fearful-Avoidant.

    If you’d rather start with understanding than validation, this book is for you. It’s one of a handful of attachment books that explains all four attachment styles in depth – with examples & research.

    In fact, this is the only non-clinical book I’ve ever found that describes the FA/disorganized style accurately, without projecting made-up ideas or old data from the 70s.

    Overall, it’s a lot more intellectual of read than Love Sense, and engages the brain more than the heart. If you like intellectual though, by the time you finish you’ll know more about attachment theory than the average therapist.

    This book is the better Step 1 for you if you: 

    • Prefer directive, concrete stories and exercises.
    • Are (currently) leaning towards avoidant.
    • Roll your eyes at sentimental, poetic language.

    Step 2) De-escalate Your Fights (if you’re in a relationship

    If you’re single, you can skip this step.
    If you’re in a relationship, you’re probably reading this because your relationship has already spiraled out of control.

    If you’re triggering each other constantly, you’ll be too drained to work on yourselves.

    Thankfully, you don’t need a secure attachment to make a supportive relationship – if you’re both willing to change.

    By sitting down and getting through the conversations in these books together, you can get back on the same side against your attachment issues.

    Some avoidants complain that the language in these books is corny and are very reluctant to try them as written. If this is you:ther

    Hold Me Tight: Seven Conversations for a Lifetime of Love

    Dr. Sue Johnson

    Hold Me Tight is Sue’s step by step guide for Emotion-Focused Couples Therapy, with or without a therapist. Unlike conventional marriage therapy which only works for 35% of couples, EFT boasts a 85% success rate in healing marriages on the brink of divorce.

    This book doesn’t go into as much detail into attachment as Love Sense, instead focusing on the struggles your relationship is going through and what you can do immediately to change them.

    This book is the better Step 2 for you if you: 

    • Liked Love Sense.
    • Want to get your relationship out of toxic cycles as soon as possible.

    Getting the Love You Want: A Guide for Couples

    Dr. Harville Hendrix & Dr. Helen Hunt

    Created by a married pair of psychologists as they processed their divorce, they reinvented attachment theory with “clingers” and “avoiders”.

    After repairing their relationship, they dedicated their practice to helping others with similar anxious-avoidant relationship dynamics. This had a lot more mainstream attention than classical attachment theory, with celebrities like Oprah and Alanis Morissette crediting it with saving their marriages.

    Since this book is written from both the perspectives of an AP and a DA who became secure together, some avoidants find this book more accessible. (I’ll let you figure out who)

    This book is the better Step 2 for you if you: 

    • Just want to get your relationship on track and plan on skipping the other steps here.
    • Want a Christian-based book.

    Step 3) Reconnect with Your Needs 

    Attachment resources  say over and over that you have to communicate your needs – but when you’ve grown up filtering out these signals how do you even know what your needs are?

    Seeking endless space or endless reassurance are not needs, they are coping mechanisms. If you want to change your attachment style, you have to dig under those coping mechanisms to find out what you really want.

    Having an insecure attachment equals disconnecting from the difficult emotions of grief & shame. Even if you’re on the anxious side and have a strong relationship with anger, it’s covering a softer emotion that you’ve had to bury.

    Our emotions don’t only live in our heads, they are literally stored in our bodies. Our skin, organs, and muscles have peptide receptors that store and access emotional information, especially repressed ones.

    Through these books, you’ll become aware of the depths of your pain, anger & grief. And though you may have deliberately avoided going into these places for fear the pain will never end, I promise that it does. When you re-connect and accept these emotions, they will transform into something beautiful.

    This step is the most difficult without a trained therapist guiding you, but if you have to go it alone here are the top resources.

     

    Focusing: How to Open Up Your Deeper Feelings and Intuition

    Dr. Eugene Gendlin

    Although an older book (published 1978), this is the only book on somatic therapy I can find that was clearly written for people to practice themselves. Decades before somatic therapy became popular, Dr. Gendlin noticed that people who made the biggest improvements from therapy processed through their bodies instead of their minds.

    It’s friendly, relatively short, and is a science-based introduction to meditative states and how to use them to reconnect to yourself.

    I couldn’t find a kindle version for this, but there’s currently a pdf available for free download here.

    This book is the better Step 3 for you if you: 

    • Are doing this journey on your own without a therapist.
    • Don’t need to be convinced that somatic therapy works.

    The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma

    Dr. Bessel Van Der Kolk

    Dr. Van der Kolk put somatic therapy on the map as a globally accepted form of therapy. This book will teach you how much your emotional pain impacts your physical body, and how your reactions to your body continue to perpetuate emotional pain.

    Trauma isn’t something that’s talked into you, so it follows that talk alone won’t be enough to get it out.

    This book was written by a medical doctor for therapy professionals, so the language is complex and the case studies are graphic. He doesn’t focus on providing solutions, but rather guidance to finding the right evidence-based therapies that work with the traumas presented.

    This is one of my top recommended books to clinicians. For clients, however, it’s hard for me to recommend this unless you need to understand the science behind a practice before you can believe it.

    P.S. Don’t be fooled by the “workbooks” on amazon, read their reviews before buying.

    This book is the better Step 3 for you if you: 

    • Couldn’t accept the premises presented in Focusing.
    • Want to know how to choose the right therapist for yourself.
    • Don’t get triggered by trauma easily.

    Step 4) Find Peace Through Vulnerability 

    Now that you’re in touch with your softer feelings, your most basic task is to deal with our own vulnerability.

    For those of us who were shamed or punished for being vulnerable as children, this is usually the hardest step. If you don’t have a partner who’s going on this journey with you, this is when it becomes really helpful to share your journey with others who are also daring to be open to the world.

    Thankfully, we can be grateful to shame researcher and Houston professor Dr. Brené Brown for being willing to share her own journey to vulnerability with all of us.

    If you’ve hidden your mistakes, swallowed the things you needed to say to avoid conflict, or spent your life trying to prove yourself to others to feel you’re enough – vulnerability will bring you the peace you finally need.

    When you’re ready to let it in, her work will bring you through tears, laughter, and finally the realization that you are not alone in your pain.

    The only real choice to make here is: Do you want to read her words or hear them?

     

    The Power of Vulnerability: Teachings of Authenticity, Connection, and Courage

    Dr. Brené Brown

    I rarely recommend an audiobook over a written book, but this is exceptional.

    Her delivery is poignant, warm, and peppered with humor as she guides you through the difficult emotions of shame, guilt and fear. 

    She ‘s that rare educator who embodies what she teaches. By sharing her personal, vulnerable stories, she demonstrates how compelling it is to be open about who you are.

    This book is the better Step 4 for you if you: 

    • Have ears.

    Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead

    Dr. Brené Brown

    If you finished the audiobook and want more, this is probably her best book. A combination of research, personal anecdotes and philosophy, she explores shame and what to do about it.

    On a personal note, a girlfriend gave me this book when I was deeply avoidant. I thumbed through it and found some interesting parts,  but didn’t internalize it at all. 

    To be ready for vulnerability, you really have to have done the preceding work.

    This book is the better Step 4 for you if you: 

    • Even if you don’t like audiobooks (I don’t), I really recommend the Power of Vulnerability.

    Step 5) Communication Skills for Boundaries 

    If you go to a relationship therapist and they focus on teaching communication skills, leave and find a better one.

    All the research says that teaching communication skills does not make a difference in distressed relationships. When we are vulnerable and feeling disconnected, we can’t access those skills.

    I worked with military trauma for 5 years, was comfortable navigating the most delicate situations you can imagine – and still couldn’t communicate with my lovers when my attachment traumas were triggered.

    Until you’ve healed your needs and vulnerabilities, it’s impossible to use these skills when they’re most needed. However, communication skills are vitally important the rest of the time.

    We are the only animal that has a third solution to fight or flight: we can assert ourselves. These books will teach you how to establish your boundaries through words, not violence.

     

    People Skills: How to Assert Yourself, Listen to Others, and Resolve Conflicts

    Dr. Robert Bolton

    “Nobody is born being good at communication, there are only people who were lucky enough to have parents that were good communicators.”

    In this book Dr. Bolton breaks down communication to its building blocks, showing with empathy how communication that we feel is “natural” is rather a result of learning from our environments. And unless those environments were ideal, our habits lead to miscommunication and misunderstandings.

    Dealing with triggers, disagreements, boundary settings, and showing love – it’s all here in beautiful, simple depth.

    The info in this book is literally worth more than what was covered in my entire Masters Degree.

    This book is the better Step 5 for you if you: 

    • Are ready to learn how to be assertive instead of passive or aggressive.
    • Are more prone to withdrawing or shutting down because you don’t know what to say. 

    Nonviolent Communication (A Language of Life)

    Dr. Marshall B. Rosenberg

    For people who feel too much, this book guides you through translating those feelings into words – and translating other people’s words into feelings.

    With empathy and reassurance Dr. Rosenberg shows you how to come down from anxiety, be present in the moment, and find empathy instead of anger.

    This book is the better Step 5 for you if you: 

    • You feel like you are belittled or dismissed for your emotions.
    • You tend to respond to conflict with anger or anxiety.

    This post contains Amazon affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases: this means whenever you buy a book on Amazon from a link on here, I receive a small percentage of its price at no extra cost to you.

    How have these books changed your life? Do you have one that you think would be a better recommendation? Let me know in the comments below.

    About Dace

    Dace is a Canadian psychotherapist specializing in sex & relationship therapy. He is currently travelling the world, studying different ways of bringing people to passion, strength, and love.
    Subscribe
    Notify of
    guest
    2 Comments
    Newest
    Oldest Most Voted
    Inline Feedbacks
    View all comments
    Just Someone

    Learning about NVC was really cool and I in no way regret it, but applying it was still hella hard. Some people say that NVC is more of a mindset than a tool and I agree with that. You can’t be like “damn this mf do be pissing me off, gotta explain it to him non-violently”, I wish I’d known that before reading the book haha. I think it’s the best for tender sensitive people

    Share This